If You Buy Only One Book This Year, Buy Cloud Castles by Dave Freer

Let me repeat that, in case you’re one of those people who don’t read the title of a post: If you buy only one book this year, forget about my poor efforts. Yes, I’m continuing the shifters and DST and the one that started with Deep Pink and there’s other stuff, but forget about my poor efforts!

If You Buy Only One Book This Year, Buy Cloud Castles by Dave Freer.

You may thank me later, at your leisure.

Cloud-Castles (Commission earned on this link)

Augustus Thistlewood was an idealist. The youngest scion of a vastly wealthy family, he’d come to help the poor, deprived people of the strange world of Sybill III – a gas-dwarf world with no habitable land. The human population, descendants of a crashed convict transport, lived on a tiny, crowded, alien antigravity plate they called ‘the Big Syd’, drifting through the clouds in the upper atmosphere. It was a few square miles of squalor, in a vast sea of sky, ruled by the degenerate relics of two alien empires.
The problem was that the people of the Big Syd wanted to help themselves, first – to his money, his liberty, and even his life.
Only two things stood between them and this: the first was his ‘assistant’ Briz, – a ragged urchin he’d picked up as a guide. She reckoned if anyone was going to steal from Augustus, it was going to be her, even if she had to keep him alive so that she could do it. And the second thing was Augustus himself. He didn’t know what ‘giving up’ meant. Actually, he didn’t know what most things meant. As a naïve, wide-eyed innocent blundering through the cess-pit of Sybill III, he was going to have to learn, mostly the hard way. Some of that learning was going to be out in the strange society that existed on the endless drifting clumps of airborne vegetation, and the Cloud-Castles of the aliens who hunted across them. Most of it was learning that philanthropy wasn’t quite what they’d taught him in college.

Now, the skinny on the book. First of all my bias disclosure: I’ve known Dave Freer for what feels like my entire life. It’s not true of course. Only about twenty one years or so. But Dave Freer is the person who introduced me to Georgette Heyer; who got me to understand that there was nothing wrong with my plotting, I just didn’t know how to foreshadow; and who kept me this side of the sod when everything came crashing around my ears in 2003. (Okay, not true, but helped. My husband was also doing quite a bit of making me realize it wasn’t me, it was the industry.)

Used to be, when we were younger and life was not quite as crazy, that we spent my early morning and his late night telling each other horrible jokes. And by gum, some day Necrophiliac Duck Press will exist. Other than as a joke so stupid I’m not going to explain it. BUT for the record I’m chuckling as I write this.

That said, it didn’t take me very long to realize Dave Freer was one of the great, if not one of the greatest (Well, Pratchett was better…) writers of our time.

I also won’t lie and say there isn’t a slight cultural mismatch with Americans that means we have to work a little harder. Not that it’s insurmountable. What Dave Freer never got was enough publisher support to surmount it. In that, he’s not different from Pratchett who languished for ten years in low midlist in the US until he changed publisher and agent and THEN suddenly was very high list indeed.

However, like Pratchett, Dave Freer has a deep insight about the human condition that pays off your “slight more work” to get in the mind frame.

This book was given to me free (And yeah, I’ve also bought a copy, because I want it on my Kindle) in manuscript form, to read for Dave.

For perspective, this landed on me when I was so sick I could only stay awake for about an hour at a time, and keep a thought in my head for ten minutes. What one of you described to me as “I was so sick all I could do was passively stare at a pictures.”

And yet, the book grabbed me enough I wanted to know what would happen next. So when I was awake, I was reading and following as best I could.

It starts as an “innocent abroad” type of story. Some of the situations seem rather…. obvious. But they manage to be both hilarious and horrifying, so you limp along going “Oh my heavens.”

And you slot all the characters into easy, not demanding, stereotypical roles, including the very wealthy family you slot as robber barons.

And… and it changes on you. And the characters change on you. And they become achingly human and important, and people you know and care for deeply.

And then in the end you cry at the love affair. Even though you knew it was coming all along.

I’m going to repeat this, in case you fell asleep through my “still groggy from being sick” prose: IF YOU BUY ONLY ONE BOOK THIS YEAR, BUY CLOUD-CASTLES.

Now go read it. We do not hold any responsibility for your coming out of this speaking horrible pseudo-Australian slang. In my case it was transitory since holding a thought in my head is still an accomplishment post virus.

Go. Read. And if you think you should nominate it for a Prometheus award, I’ll say you’re probably right. 😉

I am heartily jealous of all of you, getting to read it for the first time.

66 thoughts on “If You Buy Only One Book This Year, Buy Cloud Castles by Dave Freer

      1. Public shared on FB. (Not that anyone other than family “follows” anything I post. Most of them do not read SF. But I shared it.)

  1. If’n I get my lawn tractor running, I’ll call it a Foine Beasty like a certain uplifted Elephant Shrew
    Started in on my copy after inflicting Harbinger on myself this past weekend. I’ll need this.

  2. I’ll be getting it via KU but I just finished another Good Read!

    Amanda’s Fire Striker is Very Good!

    1. I’ve gone through the Mossy Creek stories, and am now on Wedding Bell Blues. I think it’s time to spend money on other of the Mad Genii. 🙂

      Just bought a dead-tree copy of a John Grisham novel (The Judge’s List) for $SPOUSE’s birthday. She’s a mystery fan; hope it’s OK…

  3. A truly epic plug.

    (Sigh) Time to reorganize the teetering To Be Read pile once again.
    (The Horror, The Horror.)

    1. There will be. I heard he’s wrestling with it as we speak. (Having had a cover that fit the template exactly rejected as one pixel too wide, then a cover that was one pixel smaller rejected as too small, I utterly understand the frustration.

      1. I prefer B&N, because that is the format I started with, way back when. Even some of the non-B&N independent sites that B&N eventually bought, libraries have been converted to new .epud format and integrated into my B&N library by B&N. (I did too on Calibre way before then, but still …) But finally gave in to Amazon. Especially when Sarah gets a cut …

        1. I’ll often buy her’s, hardcopies, at thriftbooks or wherever. When I do I try to remember to come back here and drop a bit in her tip box.

          1. That’s quite a Freudian slip


            .epud .EPUB

            To be fair (to me) one of the local utilities is EPUD 🙂 which I used to pay regularly (now we pay EWEB) for water, and power.

    2. Same question here.

      “The person who introduced me to Georgette Heyer” is recommendation enough for me, but I’ll be waiting for paper. If you have to put an e in front of it, it’s not a real book yet. 😊

  4. Full disclosure, I read Cloud Castles a couple months ago, an advanced draft at least, at Dave’s request. And I am delighted to corroborate every praise that Sarah has levied on the thing.
    And a stone beyatch to edit as the story was so compelling that it kept distracting me from my nit picking primary task.
    And I rank it right up there with a very good Pratchett, equal to all but perhaps the very best of Sir Terry.
    And with more than a hint of the adventure and derring do of a good Heinlein.
    And now I’ll shut up.

  5. Only bad thing to say about Dave’s writing, is that he lives too far to sign copies. But his writing is impeccable, and his talens span several related genres. When you pick up his books, you are never sure exactly what type of a story it may turn out to be. But you know you’ll enjoy it immensely. Reading it on KU right now.

  6. I read “Tom” by Dave Freer and enjoyed it. I’ve purchased this and added it to the slush pile. Don’t think dear hostess that this lets you off the hook for “Bowl of Red” Or the Deep Pink follow on mind you 🙂 .

      1. Madam you do know I jest yes 🙂 ? I shall patiently wait, if Dan, your sons or the cat(s) tell you to slow down please do.

      1. I might want to go back and reread Tom. My memory is it left itself open to a follow on, but apparently Mr. Freer’s muse has not traveled that path.

  7. Thanks. I’m going to have to read this.

    Dave Freer is one of the few things I can be a hipster on. ‘Whatcha reading?’ ‘This awesome author, but you’ve never heard of him.’

    He deserves mainsteam success. Big time. I can afford to lose my smug little secret.

  8. I found Georgette Heyer in 1975, right after she passed away. I don’t read much of this style of fiction much, but might borrow it from the library.

  9. I began reading Heyer as a tween in the 1960s, because the Head Librarian was my mother’s friend and trusted me & my sister to browse in the Adult Fiction.
    Her Regency Romances are a perfect blend of satire, genuinely sympathetic humor, madcap adventure, and believable romance (as opposed to the Ro-Mance of the Harlequin ilk).
    If Terry Pratchett and Jane Austen had a daughter…..
    Lois McMaster Bujold also credits Heyer as an influence.
    That said, her straight-up historical dramas are also very good.

  10. Well, your recommendation is good enough for me!

    A couple pages in it suddenly occurred to me.. Thistlewood seems suspiciously like Threepwood. . . .

  11. So I finished off the book last night, and I think this review was spot on.

    Something.. to the side of the book occurred to me as I read the last few pages. I’ve read a number of recommended authors here and I’m noticing a trend in that the protagonists rarely deal with actual flaws in themselves. Or their significant others.

    Is that a genre / style thing? I enjoyed the book and the review is spot on that you do develop that connection with the protagonists but I am left wishing that maybe Augustus would go through more internal development, not external.

      1. Kind of. And I am likely just not communicating it clearly. There is character *progression* in the sense that Augustus moves from the geeky isolated guy into someone that is more confident etc. Which is why I did enjoy the book, it was well constructed in the sense that the progression arcs were laid out and fulfilled well.


        I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone so if you haven’t read the book, there are vague spoiley-type things below.


        But — there are few, if any emotional setbacks or issues to deal with. The Outbackers all love him, there is no conflict when he changes everything about their way of life, nobody there is threatened by his good intentions, the police are honest and catch the bad guys, the family swoops in and saves the day and accepts everything he’s done, he accepts the fact his closest friend was lying to him all along, people die because of him and it barely registers, the threat of the aliens finding out is never realised, he never *loses* anything.

  12. It may be me, I notice it in MCA Hogarth’s writing as well. And a *lot* of web writing / indie stories. I’m just occasionally wondering if it’s an unconscious pushback against the ridiculous drama of modern media (so much of the conflict is high school teen drama where the issue could be resolved by people stopping for 3 seconds to have an adult conversation) and the generally dour outlook of the last decade.

    1. I’ve noticed some of it is that different cultures– for lack of a better way to describe it– deal with conflict in different ways.

      I saw an *epic* thread on, of all things, Tumblr– one guy’s view was that Shaggy in the Scooby Doo series was basically worthless and not even a decent friend.
      That… did not match the views of the folks I agreed with, because they recognized costs and conflicts that the objector didn’t even see as A Thing.

      Same way that you and I both are *so tired* of the spoiled-14-year-old drama.

      1. Don’t get me started on the dysfunctional way my culture (dutch-heritage-english) deals with conflict 🙂

        What do you mean saying nothing up front and talking about it behind your back isn’t a pathway to peace and happiness!

        I tend to try to evaluate / rate a book based on what the author is trying to do and how well they succeed, rather than whether they match my criteria exactly for good stories. A fun romp isn’t a political sci-fi for a reason. But in this case it’s like a good meal that just needs a bit of salt to make it great.

  13. I discovered Freer when I found that someone (him, plus Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey) had written sequels to The Witches of Karres. And there was much rejoicing.

    Great Patham! There’s a third sequel? I’m painfully behind the times. That’s two I have to buy now.

    1. Just finished re-reading The Shaman Of Karres. Pretty much wraps everything up with Captain Pausert and the Witches.

      Who is the Shaman Of Karres? It’s not explicitly stated, but the word ‘shaman’ is only used in reference to one character, and not who you’d expect.

  14. I’m reading it now, enjoying it so far. I can give a very hearty recommendation to another of Mr. Freer’s books: “Joy Cometh with the Mourning,” a mystery he wrote as a fundraiser for his local church. If you like murder mysteries, and maybe even if you don’t, it is simply wonderful. And yes, the title contains a pun.

    1. Yes. It’s amazing. I wish he’d write more of those.
      And you’ll find he’s Dr. Freer. (He’s a doctor of dead fish — because it’s hard to dissect living ones. — and he’s going to kill me for revealing his secret same. 😀 )

  15. Just finished it on KU (basically in one sitting). Reviewed it on Amazon (5 stars). It has some flaws but it is extremely entertaining. When I first started reading I was reminded of Dickens. Then Richard Dana, jr. A little bit of Heinlein. A touch of Neil Smith. All in Dave Freer’s voice. Unlike most sci-fi today, it left me feeling hopeful about humans.
    Can somebody help Dave with his cover art? It screams “Cheap Fantasy.” I would never have read it without Sarah’s plug.

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